“Are we there yet?” my youngest child asks with a smirk. It has been only a few minutes since we started driving, just the beginning of one of our longer family trips, one of those Mad Lib’ing, movie-watching, nap-taking, stopping-for-snacks kind of long trips.
My husband’s voice booms, “Oh, no you didn’t, I’m going to get you!” as he frantically reaches around backward with one arm to tickle him, allowing the other arm to somehow maneuver the steering wheel. A knowing grin appears on my face, my deepening crows feet curling up into tiny smiles thinking about how ridiculous it is to be impatient; it doesn’t help anything. Impatience is the worst kind of thief, robbing us of appreciating each step along our journey and ignoring the signs of progress right in front of us.
Having a child with ADHD can make us lose our internal compass about what we are truly proud of, especially when it’s time to write the annual holiday letter. When that old coworker’s festive note shows up in your mailbox, it’s OK if her kid made all A’s, was the star ball player, and saved a small country from starvation. Instead of cringing, ask yourself what you’ve noticed about your child over the last year that made you smile. What do you truly value in your child? The gift of having a child with a different timeline for progress, or “success,” is learning to find the best in everything. This will be your superpower. Own it.
Winning awards and getting a date to the school dance are cool, but so is joking about your own social awkwardness around the opposite sex, standing up to a bully to protect an underclassman, reflecting on being stingy with your friend’s time, helping a dog find its owner, counting to five instead of yelling at someone, creating your own game, enjoying the flicker of fireflies, or making a B on a test that was usually a C. These are legitimate measurements of progress and are brag-worthy!
There may be times when your child with ADHD makes progress in a traditional sense, and there may be times when he doesn’t. One thing for certain is that there are always signs of progress along the way, even when it seems like there aren’t. Each day, each moment, is a stepping-stone toward that destination called success.
I began to pay more attention to all the things my three children were doing, not just what they made on their math test, if they stayed out of trouble at school that day, or our daughter, a gifted musician, nailing her piece at the piano recital.
Her transition from a shy high school girl, head tilted down, leaving the stage after a musical performance to quickly dodge applause to one that bows respectfully at the end of a piece, to acknowledging the musicians with tasteful clapping to presenting pieces with poise and care beyond her years — these were signs of progress.
When asked, “How do you feel about making speeches?” she replied, “It’s like taking off a Band-Aid, I don’t like it, but it goes fast!” It showed that she was stretching outside of her comfort zone, and learning to manage stressful situations through humor. We are proud of her musical accomplishments, but, more than anything else, we measure her progress by her ability to persevere through love and laughter.
One of our sons loves creating story characters and doesn’t hesitate to explore themes of religion, politics, and gender norms in hopes of expanding people’s mindsets. He handcrafts creatures out of cheese wax and enjoys wearing costumes, even when it’s not Halloween! We love and respect his colorful inner world, no matter what his grades are. His experience with a friend whose unconditional acceptance helped him gain insight into how to make and keep friends deserved more of our attention than his need for extended time.
Any frustration with academic progress, hoped for but not yet seen, disappeared the times my son kissed me on the head or gently covered me with a blanket as he walked by me napping on the couch. Despite significant challenges with several learning environments, ending in a demoralizing battle with a private school, we took pride in his trading in a game system to get a newer one for a friend having a rough year, baking gourmet treats, practicing martial arts moves in the yard, and his clever jokes that kept us laughing.
Through all the conflict over the years with educators about IEPs, the judging glances, and not always knowing what was right for our children, I smile knowing progress came in the form of educators who did get our kids.
Maybe progress was not what we did, or didn’t say or do, but how we conveyed that we cared. When we stopped asking why our kids weren’t “exceeding standards” or, when they were, why their grades still didn’t match IQ scores like our neighbor’s kid, progress triumphed over worry and disappointment.
Sometimes life brought heartache. Sometimes it was extraordinary. In the end, the “differences” made us appreciate the simple things in life more: cooking a meal, swinging in the park, petting the cats.
So write your holiday letter with enthusiasm! Keep a copy nearby and re-read it when outside forces cause you to fret that your kid isn’t measuring up. We learned that some things came into our lives for a season — people, schools, and situations. One thing that never left our lives, even for a second, was progress.
Progress came through love, patience, and perseverance. Progress is the little things, that when strung together by a thread of moments, creates our life stories. It is the pinnacles of growth and our breakthroughs that define us as we continue to determine what progress is. Those are different for each of us, and that is more than OK.